Hon­our a twist

Hamilton Press - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE MATHER

Be­ing made a Mem­ber of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit was a turn of events Dr Deb­o­rah Challi­nor did not see com­ing.

‘‘It was a real shock as I opened the let­ter,’’ the 59 year old said of the mo­ment she dis­cov­ered she was be­ing hon­oured for ser­vices to lit­er­a­ture and his­tor­i­cal re­search in the Queen’s Birth­day Honours.

‘‘I won’t tell you pre­cisely the words that came out of my mouth, be­cause your sube­d­i­tor will just have to edit those words out of the story any­way.

‘‘It’s a huge, huge hon­our ... I have been shov­ing out books for 18 years now, and it feels re­ally nice to be recog­nised. And it is re­ally good that they are recog­nis­ing com­mer­cial fic­tion. It’s a big win for com­mer­cial fic­tion in New Zealand.’’

Challi­nor would need lit­tle in­tro­duc­tion for many of this coun­try’s reading­in­clined. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, she was New Zealand’s high­est sell­ing author. All of her his­tor­i­cal nov­els - in­clud­ing her on­go­ing series The Smug­gler’s Wife and Con­vict Girls - have ap­peared in the top five of the New Zealand fic­tion best­seller list, six reach­ing the num­ber one spot.

She has also writ­ten non­fic­tion: Grey Ghosts, based on the re­search she did for her PhD at Waikato Univer­sity on New Zealand sol­diers and the Viet­nam War, and Who’ll Stop the Rain? which is about the ef­fects of Agent Or­ange on the chil­dren of Viet­nam vet­er­ans.

The Huntly-born writer who now lives in Maeroa, Hamil­ton, says that while book sales might make her the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful writer, it is a suc­cess she has a hard time re­lat­ing to.

‘‘It sort of feels like it’s some­one else who is hav­ing that suc­cess. I spend so much of my time writ­ing on my own, so much time shut­ting my­self away.’’

While she is now able to make a tidy liv­ing from her books - ‘‘I call it my 18-year overnight suc­cess’’ - it has taken Challi­nor a lot of work to get there.

‘‘I treat it like a job, just like any­one else with a job. I get up in the morn­ing and I will go to my of­fice about 8.30am or 9am and write. And I will keep work­ing un­til about 6pm most days. I’ll work in the week­end if I am be­hind on a dead­line.’’

Be­cause Challi­nor’s works are in the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion genre and she prides her­self on her ac­cu­racy, that means a lot of re­search time needs to be fac­tored into the equa­tion.

Author Deb­o­rah Challi­nor has been made a mem­ber of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit for ser­vices to lit­er­a­ture and his­tor­i­cal re­search.

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